Forget long queues and tourist traps in big European capitals, Ljubljana has more than its fair share of charm and soul.
European capitals are buzzing with museums, parks and nightlife, and it’s hard not to be seduced by Paris, Rome or London’s attractions. But if you fancy a travel destination with lesser crowds, old world charm and plenty of soul, look a bit further. Plan a Slovenia trip and you’ll discover a hidden gem in the postcard-pretty capital, Ljubljana.
Compact Ljubljana may not trip off your tongue easily, but it is brimming with character. The husband and I instantly fell for its captivating, laidback vibe. There were no endless queues to contend with, just easy walking, eating and drinking on one of our most relaxed holidays.
Why you’ll fall in love with Ljubljana
Ljublana is an eco-friendly travel lover’s dream as green is not just a buzzword in Slovenia, the locals have embraced it as a lifestyle choice. In fact, Slovenia was declared the most sustainable country in the world (it won National Geographic Society’s World Legacy Award in 2017).
Slovenia’s people are a huge part of the attraction – friendly, helpful and easy-going. And the eco-conscious locals haven’t taken their their wealth of natural beauty for granted. Ljubljana is gracefully peppered with beautifully preseved green spaces and the capital’s residents are famously outdoorsy. Here are incredible Ljubljana experiences you must try on your Slovenia trip – take your time and languidly soak it in like we did!
Top things to do in Ljubljana
Soak in the sights of Ljubljana on foot or a bicycle
Ljubljana has a compact city centre, so it’s best to see the pedestrianised Old Town on foot or using pedal power. It’s a romantic city and even its name is similar to the Slovenian word for ‘beloved’ – ‘ljubljena’.
In the Old Town, you can see how the renowned architect Jože Plečnik has modelled the capital on ancient Athens while designing the city. You’ll stumble upon his monuments with ease as you walk around, including the river embankments, pretty squares and his most recognised work at Novi trg square – the National and University Library. We started our DIY walking tour at the Dragon Bridge and these are our favourite highlights.
The incredibly cool Dragon Bridge proudly reflects the symbol of Ljubljana – the dragon. And it makes for some great selfies! Across the river, you see the mighty castle dominating the landscape. You can easily walk to the Central Market from here which has an open-air section, a covered market and atmospheric food stalls. Check out the Open Kitchen on Fridays.
The castle, towering on a hill, is the capital’s best known attraction. The 900-year-old castle is also perfect for a spectacular view of the city. Take the funicular railway to the top (we certainly took the easy way up!). Price of castle ticket including return funicular trip: €10 for adults.
The Triple Bridge is a splendid example of architect Plečnik’s work. Where there was once a stone bridge, he replaced the metal railings with massive stone balustrades and lamps in 1842. Two side bridges were added for pedestrians between 1929-32. When we visited, the main Prešernov trg Square, adjacent to the bridge and featuring the monument to the poet France Prešeren, was buzzing with lovely summer events.
Take a bee tour
The first morning we take a bee tour which covers the major sights of Ljubljana. Our guide is knowledgeable, friendly and experienced with a great love for green living. Our tour starts in our hotel itself – Hotel Park’s rooftop is an urban home for buzzy honey bees.
We pass the Dragon Bridge, stop at the Central Market to check out the honey stalls, head to Ljubljana castle for superb views. We walk down the other side of the castle via the Fleischmann tree-lined road to the Botanical Garden. There’s a little vineyard tucked away here.
We stop at the pretty Botanical Garden, established in 1810, making it Slovenia’s oldest cultural, scientific and educational institution operating uninterruptedly since its foundation.
May 20 has been declared World Bee Day with festivals and events to mark the birthday of the pioneering beekeeper of Anton Jansa. Bees are under threat, and it’s wonderful to see this tradition intact with almost 4500 beehives in Ljubljana.
The tour is a fantastic way to understand Slovenia’s bee-keeping heritage and it covers the main city attractions – so we highly recommend you take this tour where you get to taste the quality amber gold of the Carniolan honey bee.
Cocktail with a view
Walking is thirsty work, so why not chill out with a cocktail or Slovenian wine in one of the restaurant terraces or a bar on the lively Petkovšek Embankment? The wonderful thing about Ljubljana is that there are no long queues to waste precious holiday time in, but the real charm of the city lies in just sitting and watching the world go by.
Slovenian wines, sweet or dry, are available at ridiculously affordable prices (you could get a small glass for as little at €1.20). This is because Slovenia has a long, rich history of wine making – in fact, the world’s oldest vine grows in Maribor. There are lovely bars on the embankment where we seemed to have spent an extraordinary amount of time!
Slovenian food has amalgamated influences from Mediterranean, Alpine, and Pannonian cuisines. Now even the Balkan influence can be seen. The vegetables are locally sourced from the city’s suburban gardens, which explains why the food has more flavour.
Enjoy a picnic outdoors at Park Špica
Walk about ten minutes from the city centre and you’ll find a renovated river embankment landscaped as a park. Špica or ‘pointed tip’ used to be a town beach. We can see why this green area is popular with the locals on sunny, lazy days – it’s the perfect spot to master the art of doing nothing!
Stand-up paddleboarding adventure in Ljubljana
The Ljubljanica River is popular with travel lovers keen to enjoy a boat trip, but it’s also a magnet for people on SUPs. The river offers an alternative view of Ljubljana’s romantic setting and can be done at an easy pace.
Visit the Ljubljana Marshes
The Ljubljana Marshes, a UNESCO World Heritage listed area, is a natural area of swamps spread out over 160 kms. It’s a great place for a cycling adventure as you can spot rare birds at the Iški Morost nature reserve and pass seven ponds in the Draga pri Igu valley.
Good to know if you’re visiting Ljubljana on your Slovenia trip:
Currency: You will be using the Euro (€) on your Slovenia trip.
Hiring bikes: You can get bikes from the BicikeLJ bicycle-sharing self-service terminals. It’s free for up to an hour. So just stop off at the nearest docking station within an hour and wait for five minutes before hiring a new one! Biking is virtually free.
Kavalirs: Ljubljana’s electric-powered vehicles called Kavalirs (Gentle Helpers) make for free and eco-friendly city centre public transport. Just put out your hand and stop them anywhere!
Find out more on the Slovenia Tourism Board website.